Walking a three legged dog on a leash, can sometimes be a challenge.
Three legged dogs find it easier to walk at a faster pace, and may have difficulty making quick or sharp turns.
They also have less balance, and are more prone to falling down.
1. A Harness Can Provide Support
Using a harness can give our three legged dog more support, when we are out on a walk. I found this to be especially helpful, in the beginning.
We can also use the harness to quickly and safely turn, restrain, or move our dog. This is useful to stop a tripod dog from running ahead, and to get her safely away from dangerous objects, for example broken glass.
I was using the Ruffwear Web Master Harness on Shania, and it worked out well. It is strong, provides good back support, and has fleece material over the leg straps, so that they do not overly chafe her at the joints.
However, this harness may limit air flow during hot days, and cause the dog to heat up more easily.
Another weakness of using a harness is that it gives the dog a lot of pulling power. Shania has very strong prey-drive, so it was very difficult to control her pulling, whenever she spotted a squirrel, cat, or deer. For leash training exercises, I find that it is more effective to use a thick, no-slip collar.
2. How to Stop Pulling
Being a Siberian Husky, Shania does a fair amount of pulling during walks. To stop her from pulling, I have tried using the Gentle Leader head halti.
The halti works well in controlling the direction of her head, and redirecting her away from undesirable objects and situations. However, Shania really dislikes wearing it, and she will occasionally plop down on the ground in passive protest. It is difficult to get her up again, by just using the head collar.
The same applies when she decides to hang back, dig in, and not move forward. For dealing with these situations, I usually have Shania’s collar or harness on, in addition to the halti.
Also note that the head collar is not a long-term solution. It does not train our dog not to pull, but just prevents the pulling. Once we remove the halti, our dog will likely start to pull again.
To train Shania not to pull, I use a combination of hand-targeting and treating, when she is voluntarily walking by my side. If she starts to pull, I first give her a verbal warning to slow down. If she does not listen, then I stop her, make her do a Sit and Wait, re-target her on my hand, and then move on. When I am using a collar instead of a harness, I sometimes use my hand to hold back her chest. This gives her more support, during a forced stop.
Some trainers suggest doing a 180-turn-around, to stop pulling. This does not work as well with three legged dogs, because forcing them to turn quickly may cause them to fall, and place undue stress on their feet. When I need to turn or change direction, I make sure to do it slowly, and at a pace that Shania is comfortable with. It is also possible to use leash-jerks to discourage pulling, but I no longer use aversive techniques for a variety of reasons.
Nowadays, I almost always use a flat collar while walking Shania. She is better at walking now, and although she still pulls when she sees a squirrel or other prey, she will usually stop when I tell her to. I use the Premier Nylon Martingale Collar, which works very well for preventing collar escapes. It is also nice and thick, which helps to distribute the force around the neck, when a dog pulls.
Shania seems most comfortable with just a flat-collar.
3. Short Walks and Rest
Three legged dogs tire more easily, so take them for short but more frequent walks. During longer walks, make sure to stop often (in a shady spot if possible), provide plenty of water, and keep our dog cool.
Three legged dogs will take some time to build up their walking stamina, so start with brief walks, and increase the distance slowly.
Stairs, uneven ground, and raised surfaces, may be difficult to navigate, so be patient, and provide help as necessary.
4. Protect Our 3 Legged Dog
Three legged dogs may feel more vulnerable in the presence of new dogs. When threatened, there are four possible dog responses – fight, flight, freeze, or appease. Conditions are often fluid, and a dog may decide to change from one strategy to another.
My Husky Shania deals with unknown dogs, mostly through appeasement. She will roll onto her side or back, and offer them her tummy. Sometimes, when there are highly active dogs nearby, she will choose to run away.
It is important to step in, and protect our three legged dog from unwanted attention.
Sometimes, I bring Shania to a dog playgroup. When there are overly hyper dogs about, I step in and body block them away from Shania. In this way, she does not have to deal with stressful situations alone. If necessary, I do the same when she meets new dogs during walks. By keeping things positive, she will hopefully gain more confidence, and feel more comfortable when interacting with her dog friends.
Be vigilant and keep bad social experiences from occurring, as that may cause our three legged dog to become fearful. This may ultimately lead to dog aggression, depression, or other dog behavioral problems.
In fact I would step in and protect any of my dogs from rude dogs and rude people, although I have to admit that I am more protective over Shania.
If we have multiple dogs, be aware of how the whole pack acts in the presence of unfamiliar visitors. The rest of the pack may feel the need to protect their more vulnerable sibling, and become aggressive to other dogs.
My Shiba Inu is very protective of Shania. I always supervise very closely when introducing them to new dogs. Usually, I keep Shiba on a lead, and let Shania interact with the new dog first. Once they are getting along fine, I let Shiba loose, and continue with close supervision. If Shiba displays any aggressive behavior, play stops, and he goes on a mini time-out. What the whole pack should understand, is that we are in charge of their safety, and we do the protecting when it is needed.
5. Socialize Our 3 Legged Dog
Note that three legged dogs may feel more vulnerable, and may be more fearful of new things.
It is important to socialize our dog to as many new experiences (garbage truck, umbrella, all types of people) as we can, so that she gains confidence, and is less likely to show fear aggression.
Let our three legged dog approach new experiences at her own pace, and make sure to reward and praise her well for taking small steps.
I have a 10 month old 3 legged Cavoodle. His front left leg is deformed and stunted but not missing. He can walk and run on his three good legs but when on a harness/lead combination, he pulls strongly and when restrained, stands on his hind legs. Our dog is not as robust as yours. I should mention he is a ‘rescue’ dog and we’ve only had him for 2 months. We don’t know what experience if any, he had before sharing life with us. He is a loving and adorable boy and happily hops around our home and back yard without any obvious stress….just walking on a lead is the issue. I would appreciate an advice you might like to provide.
Congratulations on your new rescue puppy. He sounds wonderful! As for the walking, it may be best to do some private training sessions with a trainer who has experience with three-legged dogs. It depends so much on the dog and how he reacts to different stimuli. One possibility is to identify what puppy enjoys most. Is your puppy food focused, toy focused, people focused? We can then use that to redirect his attention and help with walk training.
Also with a three legged dog, there is this delicate balance of wanting to protect them from over-doing it, but also letting them enjoy being a dog.
Grant Mauthe says
We rescued Molly(wheaton terrier) 4 years ago. She had been abused terribly. This came to light when she was limping more and more last summer. We took her to the vet, xrays were takin, severe bone damage,pelvic damage, and reheal had shown up. Her leg had rehealed in such a way that the misplaced bone was interferring in her knee joint. Amputation of the rear leg was recomended and completed. This was 4 months ago. How long will phantom pain continue. She is on regular doses of arnica along with sierracill. She is doing fantastic
I am looking for help. My black lab was born with microdevelopment of her right front leg. Her other front leg had been broken and was healing on its own when I rescued her. I couldn’t keep her past the healing and fostering period so my brother adopted her and she lives with him for 7 years. Now she lives with me due to unforseen circumstances. She is getting older now. She is 9 years old and I see her slowing down ALOT. It isn’t easy for her to go out to potty and I let her lay in the grass to rest.
We actually got her a wheelchair from Eddie’s wheels a year or so ago, but she hurts after using it because it forces her to walk “correctly” which she hasn’t done all her life. So I don’t really use it with her. I hate seeing her want to go for a walk and not be able to really go. I am not sure what else to do to ease her pain and make life enjoyable for her as she continues to age. Are there other products that you can suggest? Thank you for this article!
I am so sorry to hear this. Is her pain is due to osteoarthritis? Two things that I tried with my dog’s osteoarthritis are pain-killers (Rimadyl) and Adequan. There can be side-effects, especially with the pain-killers, so I did both under the direction of our vet.
I am so grateful to have stumbled onto this blog. I have been struggling with training my girl, Piper, to walk on a leash. Gentle leash tugs tend to throw her off balance a little. I have had some success with asking her to “check in” with me during walks by looking up at me. When she does that every few steps, she gets reinforced. I just purchased a Ruffwear harness. I’ve worked with three different trainers, and just started target training a few weeks back, so hopefully that is going to help, but she has a hard time only taking one step at a time, so the training has been slow-going. I’ll be sure to read more from your blog.
Hi I’ so thankful for your blog. I have a 2yr old whippet who unfortunately had to have his front left leg amputated only a week ago. He has amazed me with how well he has coped and straight after the accident was up and moving around on his 3 legs and by the second day was jumping up on furniture etc.
The main reason for contacting you is because prior to the above, we were very active with long walks (between 1 -2 hours twice a day)and running. I have been taking Toby for short and frequent walks (at most 15mins) but Toby always seems to want to keep going and I’m not sure what to do? Should I continue as is and just make walks a little longer as the weeks progress or should I actually increase our walks now? Any advice greatly received
I would consult with your vet on this. With Shania, we had to keep her on the quiet side until her stitches came out.
After that, it was a matter of observing her, and making sure she doesn’t overdo it. Young dogs tend to bounce back really fast, but in Shania’s case, she is also not great at judging her own limits. Therefore, I watch her carefully and adjust our activity accordingly. I tend to err on the safe-side, and if I am unsure about anything, I consult with our vet. The good news is that young dogs also heal quickly, so with Shania, we didn’t really have any problems early on.
As she got older though, we got a lot more careful about limiting her activity.
Big hugs to Toby. 😀